What is #FirstFridayRaleigh?
On the first Friday evening of every month, downtown Raleigh comes to life with a cross between a showcase and a city-wide party. The sidewalks overflow with people, all looking forward to soaking up the area’s flourishing arts scene. Museums, galleries, and art studios stay open late. Retailers and restaurants host special events and offer all kinds of deals. There’s live music, food, and something fun happening on every corner. If you want to get a sense of the best Raleigh has to offer, there’s no better time than First Friday.
First Friday also offers a happy dilemma: how to navigate the hubbub. With nearly 100 potentially participating venues and a jam-packed event schedule spread over several downtown districts, it helps to go in with a game plan. Here’s how to approach one of the coolest events in the Triangle.
“First Friday…showcases the vibrant art and creative community in downtown Raleigh.” –About First Friday, GoDowntownRaleigh
Need to Know
Downtown Raleigh can be divided into five districts: Capital District, Glenwood South, Fayetteville Street District, Moore Square District, and the Warehouse District. GoDowntown Raleigh makes this divide easy in their interactive First Friday map.
Prioritizing Your Favorite Events
Here’s the thing- it’s virtually impossible to hit every single deal and event offered on First Friday. With nearly 100 participating venues, you can’t do it all, and trying would be a recipe for stress. It’s much more fun to relax, wander, and soak in the atmosphere. We suggest taking a look at the listings on the First Friday website, which vary from month to month, and prioritizing which events, exhibitions, and retailers you most want to see.
First Friday officially starts at 6 PM and runs to 9 PM. Many, but not all, of the events and exhibitions adhere to these hours. The galleries usually vary- some are open during the day as well, some close at 8:30 PM, some are open until 10 PM or later- it’s worth checking the individual gallery hours.
If you’re driving into Raleigh, parking is a tossup depending on when you plan to arrive. If you’re planning on arriving in the evening, street parking is free after 5 PM, but after 5 PM, you’ll be vying for a spot along with the rest of the city. By the time 6 PM rolls around and most of the events commence, the vast majority of the best street parking is taken. While you may still find a spot on the street, it can be a hike to the venues.
If you plan to arrive around 6 PM or later, I suggest you save yourself the headache of circling block after block and spring for a parking garage- parking in many of Raleigh’s garages is free after 7 PM. You R Here has a handy interactive map of parking in downtown Raleigh, which you can find here. Because the venues and events are distributed all over downtown, the best approach is to find a parking spot and leave your car there until you’re ready to head home.
Most parking decks/lots are located in the Fayetteville Street District below W. Davie Street, clustered along Glenwood Avenue in Glenwood South, and west of S. Person Street in Moore Square. Parking decks/lots are minimal in the Capital District, and rare in the Warehouse District. Consider where you want to begin your evening and where you want to end up at the end of the night.
After you’ve parked, public transportation and/or a rideshare app is your best bet to get around to all the venues and events.
GoRaleigh’s circulator R-Line is a great option for getting around downtown on First Friday, or any time. It’s totally free, eco-friendly, and has stops in all the First Friday neighborhoods. Buses run every 10 to 15 minutes, and the R-Line’s hours of operation Thursdays through Saturdays are from 7 AM to 2:15 AM, which will more than carry you through First Friday’s festivities.
A ridesharing app is another great way to get around downtown on First Friday. Drivers are out in force, and you can go from door to door to the clusters of venues. It may also be wise to take a ridesharing app to where you’ve parked your car at the end of the night if you’re out late or are really tired (we’ve all been there.)
I’d recommend one of two approaches to First Friday: picking one or two downtown districts to enjoy, or sampling a little of each, with the art galleries as your guide.
“Just One District” Approach
If you just want to focus on just one or two districts, I’d recommend sticking with the southern Warehouse District, the run of Glenwood Avenue, or within the three blocks west of Moore Square. These areas have the highest concentration of exhibitions, art galleries, shopping, and dining. If a little sample of each district is more your speed, I recommend the following:
The Neighborhood Explorer
Though First Friday events and exhibitions vary from month to month, the art galleries don’t move. Structuring your First Friday experience around visiting the art galleries of each of the five downtown Raleigh districts is a great way to get a taste of the local arts scene.
Below is The Triangle Guide’s Google Map of each of the art galleries with their First Friday hours (where information was available.)
If hitting the art galleries and sampling each of Raleigh’s five downtown districts is what you want to prioritize, I suggest beginning your evening by parking in a lot or deck in the Fayetteville Street District. Hop on the R-Line at stop R13 and ride into the border of the Fayetteville Street District and Moore Square, getting off between stops R15 – R19 at a thick cluster of galleries and exhibitors, which include The Mahler and Block2 Video Series, along with many retailers and lots of dining and exhibition options.
Next, get back on the R-Line and take the bus stop R3 on Peace Street in the Capital District. The Capital District’s offerings are few but excellent- including Nicole’s Studio and Art Gallery, Linda Dallas Art Studio, and Gallery C- and all concentrated within a few blocks of this Peace Street corner.
Afterwards, take the R-Line to stop R5 at the north end of Glenwood Avenue. Wander south on foot, taking in the many offerings from retailers (who often will host musicians and art exhibitions within their walls!), restaurants and bars, and gallery showings at The United Arts Council of Raleigh and Wake County (at the northern end of Glenwood) and The Carter Building (at the southern end.)
As you reach the intersection of Hillsborough Street and Glenwood, make sure to hoof it to Moondog Fine Arts. Walk about six minutes back to the R-Line Route and get on at R8 and ride to stop R10 to The Warehouse District.
The Warehouse District hosts the most art galleries, including several art galleries under one roof at 311 W. Martin, VAE next door, CAM Raleigh down the street, and Litmus Gallery a few blocks south. Loads of exhibitors also call this district home.
The Warehouse District and the the Fayetteville Street District have the most late night options, with bars galore. When the clock strikes nine, most of the galleries and exhibitions will close their doors for the evening. I suggest checking out the live jazz series at Circa 1888, or taking advantage of the many bars around the Warehouse/Fayetteville Street Districts.
Depending on how late your evening runs, take the R-Line back to your parking lot (buses run ’til 2:15 AM) or take advantage of a rideshare app to go straight back to your car.
First Friday Fun
There’s no one way to experience First Friday. Use GoDowntownRaleigh’s comprehensive listings of events, retailers, and their fabulous interactive map, and you can’t go wrong.
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